Inside Father John Misty’s Fear Fun
If the name Josh Tillman sounds familiar to you, it might be because you recognize him as a former member of Fleet Foxes. Or maybe you know him as J. Tillman. Since 2005 he has released seven beautiful solo albums that were somber, acoustic, quiet, and moody in nature. The same cannot be said for his eighth album Fear Fun. And yet it’s Tillman’s best work yet, as he takes listeners on an adventurous spin under his new moniker, Father John Misty.
Tillman really lets loose on Fear Fun with playful, and even morbidly funny, songs being the result. Unlike his previous work, no one can accuse him of taking himself too seriously, which is made evident by the fact that he was willing to take so many chances on this album. Each song feels incredibly distinct and it’s clear that Tillman didn’t shy away from delving into a variety of musical styles. Refreshingly there is a great deal of humor on the album. He writes about a drug freak out on the song “I’m Writing a Novel,” as he sings: “I ran down the road, pants down to my knees, screaming,/ ‘Please come help me, that Canadian shaman gave a little too much to me!‘
Lyrically Fear Fun is a mix of qualities ranging from mischievous, mysterious, dark and twisted, absurd, joyous, and at times lighthearted. After overcoming a period of severe depression, Tillman was resolved to head in a new direction He drove down the west coast before finally arrived in Los Angeles where it seemed the vibe was right to make this album. In describing his efforts, Tillman stated, “I don’t believe that until now I’ve ever put anything at risk in my music. I was hell-bent on putting my preciousness at stake in order to find something worth singing about.” It must be said that this different persona and style of music really works for Tillman. It’s not every artist who can completely reinvent themselves with music and themes that feel utterly refreshing and new.
When I first stumbled upon Fear Fun, I wasn’t yet familiar with the artist name Father John Misty. It threw me and yet I was intrigued enough to listen. Upon hearing the first track, “Fun Times in Babylon,” I knew immediately it was Tillman because of his unmistakably beautiful and careening voice, which has never sounded better. In commenting why he chose the name “Father John Misty,” he stated “It’s all of me and none of me. If you can’t see that, you won’t get it. What I call it is totally arbitrary, but I like the name. You’ve got to have a name. I never got to choose mine. […] I didn’t want any alter-egos, any vagaries, fantasy, escapism, any over-wrought sentimentality. I like humor and sex and mischief. So when you think about it, it’s kind of mischievous to write about yourself in a plain-spoken, kind of explicitly obvious way and call it something like ‘Misty’. I mean, I may as well have called it ‘Steve.’”
Truth be told, since buying the album, I have listened to it an unhealthy number of times. It’s that good. It is luminous and disarming in a way that is totally unexpected. You can stream the whole album yourself below.